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What: Climb Sri Lanka’s 2,243m peak, Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) a famous pilgrimage site
Why: Watch the sunrise with thousands of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian pilgrims in a strenuously humbling experience
When: Pilgrimage season is from December to April due to the best conditions
Where: Southern Sri Lanka, 40km from Ratnapura and 32km from Hatton
How: Hatton route; 5km, 3hrs one way. Hatton well connected by public transport. (6 routes available)
Who: Moderate to difficult climb. Reasonable level of fitness

Sri What?

Located in southern Sri Lanka, Sri Pada is a 2,243m high pilgrimage site, located 40km from Ratnapura and 32km from Hatton. Revered as a holy site by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, each year approximately 20,000 pilgrims climb the peak and visit the universally famous footprint at the top. With Buddhists believing the footprint belongs to Buddha, Hindus believing it belongs to Lord Shiva and Muslims and Christians believing it’s Adams first step after Eden, all faiths climb in harmony and pay their respects at the top.

In this post you’ll find a budget guide on;
How to get there
When to go
Where to stay
What to pack
Climbing information (Distance & duration)

Routes

There are many possible hiking routes to take. The longer hikes available; The Kuruwita Erathna, Ihala-Maliboda and Ratnapura routes are longer and are not as commonly hiked, particularly not by travellers. All requiring good levels of fitness, planning and navigating (More information can be found on at sripada.org).

The most popular option is from Hatton. With this route you will have the bonus of making the climb with thousands of pilgrims. Whilst this means you won’t have the place to yourself, it’s a truly magical experience walking alongside the white dressed worshippers on the way to the top (many of them complete the hike in bare feet!).

Hatton Route

Trail Start: Dalhousie (30km from Hatton)
Trail Distance: 5km one way
Elevation gain: 1000m
Climb Time: 3 hours
Hiking Season: December to April (very busy during weekends and full moons)

The Hatton route is short and steep, with a largely paved path and lighting for the majority of the climb, along with rest spots and drinking water. It also has a variety of smaller temples along the way including the Japanese Peace Temple. The trail begins North East of Sri Pada in a small town called Dalhousie, a one hour tuk tuk journey from Hatton. It’s the most popular route and you’ll really get a full experience of the locals and other pilgrims. Despite the popularity the route is by no means easy, the 5,500 steps to it’s peak are uneven and unforgiving and even experienced hikers will be sure to feel it in their legs on the way down.

When to go

Hikers typical make the ascent during the pilgrimage season, starting on the Unduvap Poya Day, this changes each year but is generally at the end of December (December 3 2017) and finishes on the Vesak Poya Day (May 29 2018). This period has the best weather but also has thousands of pilgrims making the climb which can cause congestion towards the top. The busiest periods are January and February and on weekends or holidays. If you’re wanting a quieter climb it would be best to go midweek and at the very end of the pilgrimage season. Note that the later in the year you climb the less predictable the weather conditions will be.

You won’t be alone at the top!

If you are planning on seeing the sunrise from the peak then leave early! It can get very busy and congested during busier periods. The trail starts a one hour drive from Hatton and the hike will take anything from 2-5 hours to reach the peak. With the sun rising at roughly 6am (depending on what month you go) aim to be at the peak by at least 4.30/5.00 to get a good spot.

We got a Tuk Tuk from Hatton at Midnight and arrived to the trail point just after 1am. Climbing the peak quicker than expected we arrived at the summit just after 3am. In my opinion this was a good time as the trail will be quieter the earlier you go and it gives you time to relax at the top and take in the temples. If you plan to arrive at the peak early, make sure you take some extras layers so you can change from your sweaty ones (and they will be sweaty), as it gets bitterly cold at the top no matter the time of year.

Accommodation 

You have two options for accommodation; Hatton or Delhousie. Delhousie is a small village right at the trail start whilst Hatton is a well connected town 30km away. Whilst Delhousie is closer, it is not as well connected (particularly outside of pilgrimage season) and has limited services. Hatton has the advantage of being easy to reach, with more choice for accommodation and amenities however you will then need to travel 30km to start the trail.

Delhousie has a number of guesthouses and hotels (many along the main road) very close to the trail varying from 500-1500rs for budget options. If you are planning on going during peak season, it is possible to book ahead, however with the lower priced guesthouses you can turn up and take your pick. If you’re completing the hike outside of pilgrimage season then you don’t need to worry about booking ahead and you’ll be able to get much cheaper rates.

Hatton’s tourist infrastructure is not so built up but for budget options there are a few guesthouse dotted through town, with a few close to the train and bus station. For you culinary wonderers, Hatton has some cracking local restaurants. There are a number of dosa shops (don’t be expecting anything fancy) which are cheap as chips and very vegan friendly (check for ghee!). There is also an amazing curry buffet for 100 rupees, opposite the bus station, with a guesthouse just above it. We went there everyday during our stay!

Transport

Throughout the year buses connect Hatton with Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya along with many other small stations. During pilgrimage season there are direct buses to Dalhousie from Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Colombo, however these are very busy during peak times and do not run out of season.

Hatton is also connected by trains which run year round. From Kandy the journey is roughly 2.5/3 hours and from Colombo 5/6 hours with 5 trains which run daily.

To reach Delhousie from Hatton buses run every 30 minutes through pilgrimage season, these buses run via Maskeliya and take about 2 hours. Alternatively you can take a tuk tuk which can be arranged by your accommodation or speaking with the drivers in Hatton. Taking only an hour this is the quicker option but make sure you negotiate and confirm a price before you leave. This should be 1500 – 2500rs depending on your negotiating skills. It’s a beautiful experience driving along in darkness and seeing Sri Pada in the distance!

A lonely platform, Hatton Train Station

What you need

Although the route to the top is not particularly long you DO need warm outdoors clothes and shoes. The stairs are uneven and slippery so you need good traction and it goes from cold to extremely cold at the peak depending on the time of year! Make sure you take warm layers and and change of base layers for the top. A hat, gloves and a blanket along with a good coat will keep you feeling cosy. Temperatures rise with the sun and the way back down can get hot. Bring enough to keep you warm at the top but not too much to weigh you down as you’ll likely take the layers off later on in the morning.

We spent nearly 12 hours on Sri Pada from start to finish and if you’re like us you’ll build up a brutal appetite! To save money and make sure we had veggie food, we took everything with us but you can buy everything you need from the trail-side shops, which sell tea’s and drinks and traditional snacks and sundries. We took bananas, sweets and cakes for energy, fruit, nuts and coconut roti for breakfast and plenty of water just to be sure (all bought from Hatton). The shops on the trail are far more expensive than regular Sri Lankan shops, so if you’re wanting to save some money pick up your grub before you go. If you’re wanting a lighter bag than buy as you need along the path. 

This would be a great packing list for the hike;

Clothes
Hiking boots
Thick outdoors socks
Lycra cycle trousers (warm, lightweight and quick to dry. Great for hiking)
Zip-off hiking trousers
Base layer
T-shirt
Outdoors fleece
Waterproof
Hat, gloves (plus a blanket for the top if you want to be extra comfortable)
Food and Extras
Nuts & Urunda (sweet coconut balls)
Banana & salak (snake fruit, doesn’t bruise and good for energy)
Coconut roti & Vadai (easy to carry and lots of calories)
head torch (some parts are not well lit)
1 x 1.5lr bottle of water
Plastic bags for rubbish
***DON’T FORGET***Small change for temple offerings, toilets, teas etc. Important, don’t be trying to pay for a cup of tea or the toilet with a 500 rupee note!

Ittinerary

The climb is best done in 2 or 3 days. Our rough itinerary from Hatton would be;

Arrive to Hatton and find accommodation
Get supplies, arrange transport to Dalhouse and get a good dinner (Dosa or buffet?)
12am Taxi from Hatton to Dalhousie
1.15am Start trail from Dalhousie 3-5am
Arrive to peak
7am Start trail back down
Get a bus back to Hatton (1hr Dalhousie to Hatton)

***Advice*** It is possible to make the trip quickly by climbing the day you arrive and moving on to your next destination as soon as you finish the hike. For fast hikers it is possibly to get to the peak and back in less than 4 hours if it’s not busy, not allowing time to watch the sunrise. Although you’ll save on a nights accommodation I would NOT suggest this as it will be extremely tiring, you’ll have to climb with your backpack and you won’t take in the full experience, especially during pilgrimage season.

The accommodation in Hatton is not expensive and it’s worth paying for 2 nights. Nobody wants to be climbing 5,500 steps with all of their stuff on their back!

If you’re staying in Delhousie, it is easily done to arrive and climb the same day as the trail is on your doorstep but don’t be planning anything strenuous the next day!

Green

As Sri Pada is a pilgrimage destination it has over 20,000 visitors each season and there is an unprecedented amount of litter along the paths and besides the trail. Don’t be part of the problem. Normal hiking etiquette should apply and although many of the pilgrims will drop litter, bio-degradable or not, make sure you take a plastic bag with you to keep your rubbish. Better yet, take two bags and bring some extra rubbish with you (why not three or four…).

The route that leads to Sri Pada is an important habitat particularly for birds but also other mammals and insects. Limit your volume and if you’re using headtorches then keep them to the path.

Although it is now common for travellers to climb Sri Pada, remember that it is still a pilgrimage site. Although it might look great on Instagram, remember that the not everyone will appreciate you taking photos of them, particularly when they’re climbing 5,500 steps!

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Have you climbed Sri Pada? What did you think? Do you have any tips or advice for the climb? Let us know in the comments box!

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18 Responses

  • We would love to take the train ride there.

    It is a shame to hear about all the litter on the paths. This seems to be a big issue in areas like this. There is never a good excuse to not tread lightly when they visit these places. Tourists are always the first ones to complain about trash and yet most often the ones responsible for it. I personally believe there should be a fee/tax that can be used to support local communities who clean up the mess. If people don’t want to pay the fee/tax all they have to do is pick up a certain amount of trash (perhaps two bags like you suggested) and return it to the depot for a refund… just an idea this blog post made me think up… THANKS!

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    • That’s a great idea, I wish something like that could be implemented. I know of in Central America they have recycling initiatives for local communities but I didn’t come across any in Sri Lanka. We could set up a project…. 🙂

  • This is very interesting! Sri Pada means sacred footprint. I didn’t know Christians believe this is the footprint of St. Thomas. I even googled an image of the footprint.

    • I think it’s pretty neat how the different cultures have their different opinions on the history, yet they all use it as a pilgrimage site!

    • Ha, I definitely share the same opinion about sharing it with other tourists. Pilgrims on the other hand I’m more than happy to share the route with!

  • A very timely post for me. I’m going in Sri Lanka next month but my initial plan is to skip Adam’s Peak as I only have 2 weeks. I plan to do the easier alternative though at Little Adam’s Peak in Ella. After reading this post, I’m reconsidering including this in my itinerary. Hehe!

    • You should definitely do Adams Peak. Little Adam’s Peak has a beautiful view, particularly at sunrise, but it’s not so much a hike. Ella rock is definitely more impressive. Adam’s Peak definitely takes the crown though, you can’t beat the atmosphere at the top and it’s definitely worth making your plans to fit in the climb.

  • This looks like an amazing excursion! Very helpful tips. That is amazing you can climb along with the pilgrims if you prefer, it must add greatly to the experience! I agree, this would be way too much to do all in one day. I love my hikes to not be rushed so I can take my time and enjoy the scenery along the way. Thank you for sharing!

    • Taking your time is definitely key. I don’t see the point in racing to the top of any peak, no matter how high. It’s all about the journey, not the destination 🙂

    • It’s unbelievable! And you have the sherpas who go up and down carrying food and supplies to the top, making it all look easy!

  • As much as I love climbing itself, it’s so nice to have something to actually look forward to at the top of a hike! Not only does that view look incredible but the temples seem really cool just to be around.

    Also love a good interfaith place of worship haha. Climbing among all the pilgrims sound like such an experience!

    • The pilgrims really made the whole experience. Although the distance is not too long, 5,500 continuous steps is pretty gruelling so it was amazing to see 60/70/80 year old barefooted pilgrims walking past you with a big smile on their face.

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